On foot, by rattling truck and local bus, by jeep and motorcycle, American poet and musician Scott Ezell explores the Tibetan borderlands. Plotted with a line drawn on a map in Hong Kong, the journey starts in Dali, in the foothills of the Himalaya in southwestern China. The road extends north a thousand miles through towns and villages along the edge of Tibet, finally arriving at Kekexili, the highest plateau in the world, and crossing the Kunlun Mountains.
Ezell takes us through landscapes of blond and gold barley fields, alpine meadows ablaze with wildflowers, silver-blue rivers beneath "clouds like burning aluminum," and impossible snow peaks "cracking and shattering into jagged resplendence against the sky."
Balancing the epic is the intimate. Fluent in Mandarin, Ezell chats with farmers, shopkeepers, lamas, nomads, and police along way. There is also outrage in Ezell's account, as, over the course of many years and numerous trips, he witnesses the rise of militarization, surveillance, and destructive resource extraction, including open-pit mining and the death of rivers by the blunt force trauma of dams.
Readers were first treated to the visceral beauty of Ezell's poetic prose in A Far Corner: Life and Art with the Open Circle Tribe, the story of three years he lived among a community of Indigenous artists on Taiwan's rugged Pacific Coast. The present work continues his exploration of remote peoples and wild landscapes, and reveals an exceptionally talented writer at the height of his craft.
Journey to the End of the Empire is both a love song for the earth, and a cry of dissent against environmental destruction, centralized national narratives, and the marginalization of minority peoples.
Journey to the End of the Empire: On the Road in Eastern Tibet, Scott Ezell, Camphor Press, Paperback, 296 Pages, $20.00
Scott Ezell is an American poet, musician, and multi-genre artist with a background in Asia and Indigenous peoples. He was based primarily in Taiwan from 1992 to 2004, and traveled widely in China, India, Japan, and elsewhere during this time. Since 2009 he has worked on a poetry and photography project documenting the effects of centralized state power, civil conflict, and destructive resource extraction on marginalized landscapes and communities in the China-Southeast Asia border zone. He is the author of A Far Corner, a narrative nonfiction account of three years he lived and worked with an Indigenous artist community on the Pacific Coast of Taiwan. He has released a dozen albums of original folk, ambient, and experimental music, and published poetry books including Petroglyph Americana, Carbon Rings, Swallowed by Machines, Shell Games & Ponzi Schemes, and The Front Lines of the War, which was also produced as a sound art and spoken word album. Scott Ezell is based in Chiapas, Mexico.